“Kabobo” announces Mulenda, our inexhaustible guide. After a 5 hour hike, we leave the thick bamboo woods and for the first time in many days we find ourselves under the open sky.
The world is different here, the vegetation has completely altered: we are in the realm of high altitude, the Afrotemperate zone where one can easily forget they are in the tropics. Around the small podium of dark volcanic rocks on which we have stopped I think I see thyme, savory, sage, rush, holm oak and a few conifers typical of my Mediterranean area.
The truth is given away by the l’Hoest monkeys that jump here and there on the branches and on the long silvery lichens that hang down like veils from the branches, as well as the view in front of us, that can leave no doubts to our location. The Kabobo massif is completely spread-out in front of us. A succession of mountaintops and valleys surrounded by thick forests continue as far as the eye can see.
No traces of any other human beings for dozens of kilometres. At 2715 metres of altitude, we are at the peak of the largest, oldest massif of Kabobo. From here on the landscape changes. We are over the tips of the trees, having escaped from the hypnotic and oppressing atmosphere of the forest labyrinth. We can finally see over the horizon, allowing us to finally be able to understand our position and the surrounding territory. It brings a relief we were acutely aware was missing in the forest. A hilly landscape covered in Afro-Alpine meadows detaches from the thick forest, and in tight and dense tunnels waves it’s way between the hills.
It’s one of the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Straight away we begin to see hints of the biodiversity. Emmanuel points out the faeces of a chimpanzee. Later on we cross the ones of a pangolin, easily discernible by the exclusively chitinuos substance derived from the abundant meals mainly consisting of ants. But soon after we receive a bigger surprise. “Can you smell this?”, he asks, “a leopard has recently passed through here”. I confirm, the smell is characteristically acrid and pungent. “To the Babembe it’s a sacred animal” explains Aristote, whom belongs to this ancient population who’s expansion reaches the shores of the Tanganyika. Sacred, just as the pangolin and the chimpanzee are, and vessels of magical powers to which only the village chief has access. To all apart from him, hunting these animals is absolutely prohibited. In the case of the chimpanzee the taboo is even stricter: to eat one is an unforgivable sin. “Why?”, I ask. “Because they are our brothers” they answer.
We cross the hills encouraged by the wind, that takes me back to my “home peaks” and we set up our accommodation near an old miners’ camp. Amid these hills, various amateur excavations disturb the harmony of the place and betray the presence of gold and coltan: precious goods for the “wauzungu”, white people.
In the evening it’s time for the herpetologists’ customary excursion: amphibians and reptiles are easier to intercept at torch-light. Michele, Emmanuel, Kasereka e Aristot set off along the stream. They return in the late evening, with better results than expected. “It was 10 metres away from me”, recounts excitedly Emmanuel, “only 10 metres away and a 100 from the camp. I shined the light on it, looking straight in its eyes. It froze for a heartbeat, then in an instant disappeared again in the forest. “What? What?”, we ask eagerly. “Chui” he answers, a leopard!